The HSE’s chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry has said mandatory mask-wearing will only be introduced if the “situation gets worse” in relation to Covid numbers.
Dr Henry acknowledged the HSE was “very concerned” at the rise in cases in recent weeks which was largely driven by the sub variants BA4 and BA5.
However, the number of cases in ICU had remained steady (23) which was reassuring, he told RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne show.
While 70 per cent of the cases at present were of the new more transmissible variants, he predicted that numbers will begin to decline within a few weeks as had happened in Portugal where numbers were already dropping once the peak had passed.
It was still a “troubling trend” even if figures were not as high as previously. The “harsh” reality was that of the 606 cases in hospital at present, half had not received a booster and one third had no vaccine at all, he added.
When asked about mask wearing, Dr Henry said it was very important in care settings, but he pointed out that the virus had “pulled out so many surprises” that it was not possible to say that mandatory mask wearing would not be introduced again at some stage.
The high levels of vaccination in Ireland meant that there was a higher level of protection in the community. But he cautioned anyone with symptoms to take an antigen test and if positive to isolate.
Anyone who had not yet been vaccinated should do so and anyone eligible for a booster should avail of it, he urged. To date only 311,000 of the 700,000 entitled to a second booster had received it. “That’s the single most important message."
Dr Henry also acknowledged that the current high numbers of patients on trolleys were unusual for this time of year, this was troubling and the HSE was trying to combat this with increased community care and community intervention along with a broader range of settings for health care which would reduce the necessity to visit emergency departments.